The latest terroristic bombast out of Donald Trump about unleashing “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea is very dangerous stuff and is leading the United States in the completely wrong direction.
Agreed that North Korea is making foolhardy moves to prove that it has nuclear weapons capable of reaching Guam and will use them if the U.S. continues its threatening posture toward the tinpot dictatorship of the unstable and slightly ridiculous Kim Jong Un. Agreed that it is vital that the U.S. make some response to defuse this confrontation and avert a war, whether nuclear or not, that would likely end in millions of civilian deaths.
But to suggest that America would launch “power the likes of which this world has never seen before”–and to do so almost exactly on the 72d anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, and in almost exactly the words Harry Truman used announcing that catastrophe–is simply perilous folly.
Trump doesn’t understand, and perhaps none of his overly-militarized crew around him understands, that Kim has learned a lesson from America’s actions toward countries that try to build a nuclear defense against it.
The first was Iraq. In that case it was held by the American neocon government that Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons, even after years of negotiations and inspections, and that was enough to launch a war in March 2003 that toppled the regime and eventually killed Hussein. The country was in chaos for a decade, became irrevocably split into three factions, and even now is a pathetic excuse for a functioning government.
The second, even starker case, was Libya. There the Qaddafi regime attempted for more than a decade to build nuclear armaments without much success but with a lot of stockpiling of fissionable materials. After extreme Western pressure, and with promises of great rewards, Qaddafi started to dismantle the program in 2003 and by 2009 it was mostly defunct. Then, instead of rewards, the West encouraged an all-out rebellion with the aim of unseating Qaddafi, the United Nations declared a no-fly zone, and a civil war tore the country apart.
Finally in March 2011 NATO decided to invade on behalf of the rebels and American, French, and British airplanes began a steady series of bombings, backed up by warship firing missiles, and submarines of the Mediterranean coast. The war nominally ended in October of that year when Qaddafi was captured and beheaded, though the country was effectively disintegrated and has not recovered six years later.
David Sanger, writing in the New York Times in 2011 said that “the message of the Libyan experience to other countries under pressure to give up their arsenals may not be the one Washington intends.” Such countries as Iran and North Korea, which both were trying to develop nuclear arsenals, he said, “may conclude that Qaddafi made a fatal error.” What else could they conclude?
For much of the Clinton presidency, followed then by Bush’s and Obama’s, the nuclear-armed Western states put great pressure, with all kinds of negotiations and promises, on the earlier Kim regimes not to proceed with their nuclear operations. Various pacts and deals were made and North Korea seemed to agree to suspend its programs in return for billions of dollars of aid for the impoverished country. It took a lesson from Iraq, however, and began some nuclear underground tests in the early years of the Bush presidency–without serious punishments though much complaining.
When Kim Jung Un came to power in 2012, the lessons of Iraq and especially Qaddafi were uppermost in his mind and he has run the country, and an increasingly powerful nuclear arsenal, with them guiding his entire approach to the West. He will not give up his nuclear armory, no matter how much bluster and how much damage the United Nations may afflict, because he sees that as the one sure way to make sure he doesn’t get overthrown or invaded. He may not be right about that, but it is certain that he has no intention of following the U.N.’s recent demand that he disarm completely.
So what is to be done? Well, obviously, accept North Korea into the nuclear club and let Kim waste his meager resources on doing whatever he wants with his missiles and warheads without our going on after him about them. Obviously he will not then be able to complain that America is threatening him, and he will find it a bit more difficult to whip his army into stepped-up nuclear tests without that particular goad. Not that he will become peaceable, no fear of that, but he may become as tractable and cooperative as the Chinese, as an example of a nuclear-armed enemy, have been in this area, confident that no one will want to start a nuclear armageddon by invading him and having him beheaded.
Just one more point. If the U.S. tries this strategy and can be seen to represent no threat to the Kim regime, it might be possible to work out a diplomatic arrangement where we can set up a so-called U.S. Interest Section within an embassy friendly to Pyongyang without actually having formal diplomatic ties–just as America did in the Swiss embassy in Havana from 1977 until the restoration of full relations two years ago. That way we can keep an eye on whatever the North Koreans are doing and be able to confront and satisfy whatever grievances it comes up with.
Be better than a “fire and fury” nuclear war, don’t you think.